Did you know that 'hurry sickness' is now a real diagnosable thing? I didn't until recently.
It's been identified by the cardiologists who first observed the link between stress and heart diseases. They define 'hurry sickness' as:
"a continuous struggle and unremitting attempt to accomplish or achieve more and more things or participate in more and more events in less and less time."
Is it just me, or does that feel eerily familiar at all?
A professor at London Business School has found that 95% of managers he's assessed suffer from 'hurry sickness'. He notes these as some symptoms:
when you put food in the microwave for 30 seconds but need to fill that time doing something else
when you get a buzz from saving time jumping between queues in traffic, or getting through airport security quickly
when you feel compelled to press the 'door close' button in lifts (despite most of these being not connected to anything except the bulb - they're usually just mechanical placebo's!)
It's funny to think back to the emergence of what we now call computers. Do you remember the deep concern people had trying to work out what we were all going to do with all our newly created spare time once these 'time-saving devices' were getting all our work done in only few hours each week? In reality, our relationship with technology is much more complex, and we now find ourselves permanently connected (but not in the ways that matter), and the office is able to travel home with us, or even on holiday with us, pervading our most private spaces. From the moment we wake, lying next to us, with open arms, beckoning us, calling for our attention and affection... is a world of email inboxes, social media platforms, and the latest breaking news...
They say this hurry sickness is causing people to feel too busy to stop, pause and reflect; too rushed to zoom out and make good, considered decisions; too frazzled to treat colleagues and employees the respect and consideration they deserve.
Richard Foster's social commentary is piercing:
"Today the heart of God is an open wound of love. He aches over our distance and preoccupation. He mourns that we do not draw near to Him. He grieves that we have forgotten Him. He weeps over our obsession with muchness and manyness. He longs for our presence…. Our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in "muchness" and "manyness," he will rest satisfied.
I wonder how many of us suffer in some measure from this 'hurry sickness'. I've seen in myself a deep need to feel productive. I definitely struggle with a desire for this 'muchness and manyness'.
And yet Jesus has something better on offer for us... The late Eugene Peterson's paraphrasing of Jesus' words in Matthew 11 warmly present Jesus' invitation to us:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
I feel so drawn in by the invitation to 'learn the unforced rhythms of grace'. My soul deeply yearns for more of that. To feel more of that.
That phrase has increasingly become a bit of a motto for me. It reminds me of the rhythm of the life of Jesus - something of the grace and ease and joy in which he seemed to carry out his ministry. He never seemed rushed - in fact on a number of occasions he seems to have intentionally allowed for things to take longer than the disciples had hoped - much to their frustration.
As a human being, Jesus, like us, was limited and restricted by time and space. The number of people he was able to heal and engage with was a tiny fraction of everyone on earth. A minute little percentage of a percentage. Yet, he never seemed to be anxiously fretting about his human limitedness.
So, how do we become a little more like Jesus? How do we experience more of the 'unforced rhythms of grace' that he has on offer? How do we, as Dallas Willard instructs us to, "ruthlessly eliminate hurry" from our lives?
I definitely don't have the full answer to that... But... I have recently been deeply challenged by the encounter that a rich ruler had with Jesus.
The well known story from Mark 10 goes like this:
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
[a quick note on 'eternal life': This idea, in the first century, was less about a specific time to be expected in the future but was more about a quality of life that could be experienced now into the future.]
‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good – except God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother.”’
‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’
Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
I know at one level this story is about dealing with our love for, and dependence on material things. But, let's zoom up a level. Let's consider not the content, but the shape of this interaction with Jesus.
The gospels seem to present this man to have it all: material wealth, religious piety, authority and influence... And yet, something's missing... Despite having it all, he isn't experiencing this quality of life, this 'eternal life'. He seems to be after these 'unforced rhythms of grace' that Jesus has on offer, wondering which one ingredient in the recipe of life he is still missing.
So, what does Jesus say? What's the secret missing ingredient? What's the one thing Jesus says he's missing and needs to add? As Jesus so often does, his response subversively flips the whole question on its head.
What really struck me was that Jesus tells him that he didn't need something more...
He needed less.
He didn't need to add another element to his life, he had to let something go.
In reflecting on this, I have felt a simple but annoyingly challenging invitation from Jesus, and perhaps you feel it applies to you too.
The invitation, for many of us, is to walk in greater depths of abiding in him and more vibrant experiences of following him; an invitation to more transformative encounters with his love and deeper and richer discernment of his will and activity in our lives.
But what if grabbing hold of that means letting go of other things? What if, as we simplify, and create absence in our lives, homes & schedules, we might experience His presence in that absence?
What if making space for Jesus this year, means less space for other things?
I've heard preachers often talk about the analogy of seeing our life as a bucket, and trying to fill it with our various priorities: sand (least important), stones (more important) and a big rock (God). The analogy goes that if you try put the sand in first, then the stones, then the rock doesn't fit in. But if you put the rock in first, then the stones, then the sand, then you've managed to fit it all in - wa la! Of course this analogy has some helpful implications in terms of ordering our lives according to our priorities. But I have wondered, more recently, whether this analogy had such enduring resonance with so many of us because it makes us feel like we can have it all. If we just put things in the right order, then we can can have all the 'muchness and manyness' we want, and we can manage to squeeze it all in.
I felt challenged to reflect on my free time, and my hobbies, and what I might need to consider giving up or spending less time on, in order to actually create space and margin in my life; to create absence in which I might experience the presence of God.
The scary thing about the Mark 10 story is that Jesus lets him go.
He loves him, he challenges him, invites him to make a big decision, and then leaves the ball in his court to choose how to respond.
I feel like the ball's in my court now.
Maybe it's in yours too.